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Allied Electrical Group Inc. v. State, Department of Labor and Training

Superior Court of Rhode Island

September 3, 2014

ALLIED ELECTRICAL GROUP, INC. and ANDREW GIULIANO Appellants,
v.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND TRAINING Appellee.

Providence County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Stephen A. Izzi, Esq.

For Defendant: Bernard P. Healy, Esq.

DECISION

MCGUIRL, J.

Allied Electrical Group, Inc. (Allied) and its president, Andrew Giuliano (Giuliano), (collectively, Plaintiffs) bring this appeal from an administrative decision of the Department of Labor and Training (DLT) finding Plaintiffs liable for several violations of the Rhode Island prevailing wage laws, G.L. 1956 §§ 37-13-1 through 37-13-17. For the reasons set forth in this Decision, the Court affirms DLT's decision, in part, and remands it, in part. Jurisdiction is pursuant to § 37-13-15(c) and G.L. 1956 § 42-35-15.

I

Facts and Travel

In 2010, the general contractor chosen by the State to perform a renovation project at Rhode Island College hired Allied as a subcontractor to install electrical and teledata equipment. The parties do not dispute that the renovation project was a public works project in excess of $1000, meaning that Allied's installation services were subject to the prevailing wage laws set forth in §§ 37-13-3.1 through 37-13-17. See § 37-13-3. During a routine investigation of Allied's worksite, however, DLT employees developed reason to believe that Allied had not properly complied with the prevailing wage laws.

DLT then issued a letter initiating charges against both Allied and Giuliano. After further investigation and a hearing on February 19, 2013, a DLT hearing officer concluded that Plaintiffs had committed the following violations: 1) Plaintiffs underpaid apprentices' fringe benefits, in violation of § 37-13-7 and R.I. Admin. Code 16-060-011; 2) Plaintiffs paid electrical apprentices at the lower telecommunications apprentice rate for some of the work performed, in violation of § 37-13-7 and R.I. Admin. Code 16-060-011; 3) Plaintiffs failed to increase wages for their employees on July 1, 2010, as required under § 37-13-8; and 4) Plaintiffs impermissibly withheld wages from employee Shawn Ventura, in violation of § 37-13-7(a). As a result, DLT ordered Plaintiffs to pay the aggrieved employees back wages plus interest. Moreover, the hearing officer determined that Plaintiffs' violations were willful; therefore, pursuant to § 37-13-14.1, DLT also assessed a civil penalty of three times the total amount of wages due and debarred Plaintiffs from bidding for or accepting any public works contracts for sixty months.

Plaintiffs timely appealed to the Labor and Payment of Debts by Contractors Appeals Board (Appeals Board), which affirmed the DLT hearing officer's findings and assessment of penalties. Having thereby exhausted their administrative remedies, Plaintiffs timely filed a complaint with this Court seeking review of the agency's decision.

II

Standard of Review

"[t]he court shall not substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. The court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings, or it may reverse or modify the decision if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions are:
"(1) In violation of constitutional or statutory provisions;
"(2) In excess of statutory authority of the agency;
"(3) Made upon unlawful procedure;
"(4) Affected by other error of law;
"(5) Clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record; or
"(6) Arbitrary or capricious or characterized by an abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion." Section 42-35-15(g).

Accordingly, the court reviews questions of fact only to determine whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the agency's decision, and when such evidence exists, the court must accept an agency's factual findings. Barrington Sch. Comm. v. Rhode Island State Labor Relations Bd., 608 A.2d 1126, 1138 (R.I. 1992).

In contrast, agency determinations on questions of law "are not binding upon the [reviewing] court, [which may] determine what the law is and its applicability to the facts." Narragansett Wire Co. v. Norberg, 118 R.I. 596, 607, 376 A.2d 1, 6 (1977); see also Hometown Props. v. Rhode Island Dep't of Envtl. Mgmt., 592 A.2d 841, 843 (R.I. 1991) (noting that the trial court "may properly review" agencies' determinations of law); accord Vitterito v. Sportsman's Lodge & Restaurant, 102 R.I. 72, 79, 228 A.2d 119, 124 (1967). Nonetheless, when, through an adjudicative proceeding, "an administrative agency interprets a regulatory statute that the General Assembly empowered the agency to enforce, " the Court must accord that interpretation "'weight and deference as long as that construction is not clearly erroneous or unauthorized.'" Labor Ready Northeast, Inc. v. McConaghy, 849 A.2d 340, 344 (R.I. 2004) (quoting In re Lallo, 768 A.2d 921, 926 (R.I. 2001)). Accordingly, "'when the statute is silent or ambiguous [the court] must defer to a reasonable construction by the agency charged with its implementation.'" Labor Ready Northeast, 849 A.2d at 346 (quoting Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 26 (2003)).

III

Analysis


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